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10 Accused of Espionage in Biggest Cuban Spy Ring Ever Found in U.S.

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The government charged 10 people Monday in what prosecutors said is the largest Cuban spy ring ever uncovered in the United States since Fidel Castro came to power nearly 40 years ago.

The eight men and two women tried to penetrate U.S. military bases, infiltrate anti-Castro groups and manipulate U.S. media and political groups, federal investigators said.

The FBI said the group’s main target was the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which runs American military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“In scope and in depth, this case is really unparalleled in recent years,” said U.S. Atty. Thomas E. Scott. “This spy ring was cast . . . to strike at the very heart of our national security system and our very democratic process.”

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The Cuban foreign ministry in Havana had no comment.

The suspects were held without bond and face charges of espionage and acting as unregistered agents of the Cuban government. Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing, but they would not say if more arrests were anticipated.

Charges against five of the suspects carry life sentences; charges against the other five suspects carry maximum sentences of 15 years.

One of the suspects, Linda Hernandez, was said to be part of a husband and wife spy team. She and her husband are members of the Cuban military and are longtime operatives, the FBI said. Her lawyer, Vincent Farina, said his client is a housewife, not a spy.

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According to an FBI affidavit, surveillance dating back to 1995 indicated all 10 members operated with code names and had escape plans. FBI agent Raul Fernandez said in the affidavit that the spy group was led by Manuel Viramontes, a Cuban military captain, and used computers with coded material on disks to communicate with each other.

The disks, found in Viramontes’ Miami apartment, provided a detailed overview of spy operations reminiscent of Cold War-era espionage, including references to agents as comrades.

Congressional sources said the arrests, made without incident Saturday, were timed to avert an alleged operation the group planned.

Among those arrested was Rene Gonzalez, who was formerly affiliated with the Miami-based Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue. The group is known for flying mercy flights over the 90 miles of open water between Florida and Cuba, searching for rafters fleeing the Communist island nation.

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Four Brothers fliers, including three Americans, were killed in February 1996 when their two planes were shot down by a Cuban MIG over international waters.

Federal officials said they were looking into whether Cuban spies played any part in the attack.


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